Have you have ever bumped into a stranger somewhere completely random, only to notice they have on a bracelet that matches your own? Then you know. You know you have found someone else who leaves a little piece of their heart in the Virgin Islands.
If you don’t know what I am talking about, you’re likely reading this while dreaming of your first vacation to St John. Once you arrive, you will quickly notice this unique bracelet, one or more, on the wrist of every man, woman and child. Yes, we even put them on our babies.
Today the hook bracelet is an established symbol of the Virgin Islands. Its rebirth has been accredited to Sonya Hughes of St Croix. Hughes began creating her handcrafted, unique and signature hook bracelets in 1964 and they quickly became a MUST HAVE for all who visited St. Croix.
This stunning tradition is now interwoven into VI culture, and artisans on St. John are now crafting their own versions of the notorious hook as well. The St. John specific hook evolved from the simple “U” shape with the addition of a ball embellishment turning it into a “J.”
Further evolving from the simple hook, some of these locally crafted bracelets now commemorate St John icons such as the petroglyphs and the island outline. After Hurricanes Irma and Maria, many local jewelers created bracelets commemorative of the storms and donated portions of the proceeds to local charities. The familiar metal band can be simply silver, hammered silver, gold or two-toned. Others are adorned with jewels, diamonds, or the Caribbean stone Larimar.
Whichever style you prefer, obtaining your first hook bracelet has become a rite of passage for island dwellers and guests of the Virgin Islands. If you have been to St John once, you probably have a hook bracelet. If you have been here several times, then you probably have several. I once met a woman wearing 20 hook bracelets, 10 on each arm. During her 20 years of visiting the Virgin Islands annually, she had obtained a hook bracelet for each visit.
The origin of this custom that has become so special and specific to the Virgin Islands, is certainly up for debate. Some say the hook bracelet came to the Virgin Islands via the European settlers. One legend identifies the hook bracelet historically as a “Danish wedding band.” Worn by sailors for the ease at which it could be removed if caught in the lines while at sea. Others claim it came from the shores of Africa and transcended through generations in the Virgin Islands. Recent archeological digs in the Congo have uncovered bracelets and fishing hooks crafted in a variety of metals.
These two legends colliding could have eventually evolved into what we now know as the legend of the hook bracelet. Certainly, sailors and travelers trade goods, traditions and stories as they circumnavigate the globe. So too, this lure of fishhooks being fashioned into bracelets could have been transferred.
One legend claims they were worn originally by wives of fisherman for luck and love to bring their husbands back safely from the sea. The hook was worn facing in when their men were in port and turned away towards the sea when they set out to sail. As the time for their anticipated return neared, the women would turn their hook back to face inward again, as if to call their loved one home safely.
This practice of wearing your hook bracelet towards or away the shore may have been what evolved into today’s tradition of wearing your hook to show your relationship status. If the hook is worn inwards, it means your heart is caught. If you are fishing for love, you wear it with the hook open outwards. How that tradition evolved has many possible explanations, depends on who you ask.
Whether your hook bracelet is an expression of love or luck you have sought or found, whether you have one or twenty; most importantly it shows your love for St John. So, perhaps next time you are missing her, turn your hook out towards her shores. And like the wives of lore…St John may call you back just a little more quickly.